For those of you who are faithful readers of Calf, as you can tell from the last couple weeks, we are in a bit of a dry spell. Outside of our faithful gambling experts, material hasn’t exactly been pouring in. It’s not that our writers have just called things off, it seems as if everybody has some reason whether it be promotion or demotion at his respective job, commotion with his computer, devotion to a female who won’t give him five minutes of free time to sit down and write, or just a struggle to find emotion in writing something (see NHL Lockout is sabotaging 40% of The CalfMuscle).
With all of that said, here is the random post of the year by me. My subject line reads nothing more than Thoughts on/through NFL Week 15. That’s exactly what I’m doing: Thinking and writing. Read what you may, agree or disagree with whatever you please. And I encourage you to comment on anything that you feel I hit, missed, or did not mention.
- I don’t want to go on a Browns rant. BUT after Sunday’s game, I’m again sick to my stomach. I really am excited about the teams young talent, especially on defense, but after three straight wins (all against subpar competition, but still) it appeared as if they were right back to being a bad team again. But I can’t put it (all) on the players. I don’t want to sound like an emotional fan and call or one guy’s head and not another, but after Sunday, it’s clear that Pat Shurmur HAS TO go. I’m not even basing that on the fact that his offensive system is that of a bad high school team or that on every episode of NFL Road Tested: The Cleveland Browns his nipples are absolutely tearing through his shirts, but I say that based on the lack of fear and respect that anybody has for his team – entirely because of him. After the Browns’ second half collapse against the Redskins, reporters filled the locker rooms post-game (as they always do). And a number of these reporters reported (again, as they always do) that the Redskins locker room was filled with laughter after the game. They weren’t laughing at any one play or anything that a teammate did in the locker room, they were laughing at and mocking the Cleveland Browns game plan. Again, this is from multiple NFL reports. The Redskins were said to have been laughing at the elementary style of the Browns offense and how clueless and ill-prepared the Cleveland defense was. When you are mocked based on your preparation or lack thereof, that’s a sign that change needs to be made. As a fan, I believe in this young roster, I believe that the skill players on offense will develop into a dangerous group, and I believe in Brandon Weeden for the next seven, yes I said seven, years. He has an absolute cannon of an arm, and with the young offensive line that they have, if they can keep Weeden upright, that arm will last until he’s in his upper-thirties. But I don’t believe in Pat Shurmur. Nothing about him says “I’m an NFL Head Coach.” And what makes me the most sick is that John Fox was begging Cleveland to hire him. He wanted his office to be in Berea, Ohio. But for some reason, the team’s fat president wanted to hire “the next young coach”. Shame on you, Mike Holmgren. You are a fraud, a thief, and a prideful slob.
So much for not going on a Browns rant.
- Andrew Luck was the most hyped up rookie QB I’ve ever seen, and he is somehow meeting and exceeding expectations. Robert Griffin III has an impressive stat-line and appears to have been worth the bundle that Washington traded for him. But Russell Wilson deserves the NFL Rookie of the Year Award. I called RW winning RoTY in my preseason NFL post but I refuse to post a hyperlink because all of my other picks were so awful.
Luck and Griffin may both find themselves in the playoffs and they may both post better career statistics (and we know that all people care about for quarterbacks is stats and wins – even though some are asked to do so much more than others and often times with so much less [see Tony Romo]), but Russell Wilson means more to his team. Well, Luck may be on an even parallel with Wilson, but RGIII’s role, while glorified, is so much less stressful. And not only did RW beat out a newly-acquired, handsomely-paid free agent in Matt Flynn for the starting quarterback position, but he has transformed the Seahawks from a young team with a good defense to a Super Bowl contender. (Yeah, I said it.) And if you are a stat guy, he leads all rookies in TD passes with a spotty receiving core.
- Speaking of Seattle, Pete Carrol deserves to win both Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year. He calls ALL of the shots in Seattle and the best part is that he marches to the beat of his own drum. People laughed at his Bruce Irvin pick, Irvin is playing like a top ten pick and a future 15-sack-a-year guy. His Russell Wilson pick is doing the laughing for him. And in three years he’s pieced together not only one of the best secondaries and best offensive lines in the NFL, but he did as economically-consciously as one could and his DBs and O-lineman are all young. This Seattle team has the look of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year (young, promising QB, running game to carry him while he takes his lumps, dominant defense, home field that you don’t want to suit up at for a playoff game). Only they are younger and their quarterback is smarter, more athletic, and not a womanizer. I wouldn’t be surprised of Qwest Field has a few NFC Championship trophies won in their house in the next seven years.
- Speaking of womanizers, I’m thoroughly enjoying Ben Roethlisberger’s season because it is just where I expected him once his defense took a step or two backward. Roethlisberger is a top 7 QB (Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Manning, Brees, Ryan, Roethlisberger), but six or seven is his ceiling. He is putting up a solid season statistically, but this fallacy that nobody is better in the clutch needs to be quenched. Roethlisberger has two Super Bowls on the coattails of one good throw and two of the top five to ten defenses in the last 50 years (along with ’85 Bears, ’76 Steelers, ’00 Ravens, ’90 Giants, and whatever year was the best for the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome [I’m only 24, so this last statement is backed up by nothing more than what I’ve seen, what I’ve read, statistics, and my dad’s opinion. Although my dad may be a bit biased considering he just kept naming Steelers defenses]).
My argument for Roethlisberger’s unexplainable Hall of Fame candidacy (not his ability to win the league today or how good he is, but how great or transcendent he is) and his mention in the “elite” group (there are only three truly elite QBs in the NFL – Rodgers, Brady, Peyton Manning – and perhaps you can argue for Brees) is that he has never had to carry his team’s burden until last season. He’s always been carried for 55 minutes and then had to turn on the jets for the final possession of regulation in order to get a win. He’s had success, because he is a very very very good quarterback that I’m sure 20 to 25 teams in the league would love to have, but since his defense has taken a step back (don’t look at statistics for the Steelers D, just watch the game) he hasn’t been this William Wallace-like warrior that everybody mistakenly took/takes him for.
I’m rambling again. In closing regarding Roethlisberger, I said I’m enjoying this season because the real Ben Roethlisberger is standing up. The one who is more than capable of leading a drive for a game-winning field goal against the Eagles and light up the Raiders secondary, but when the ability to justify subpar play is present (see Rib Injury, Todd Haley, Dropped Passes, etc), he’s not afraid to lean on them. I know that if the Steelers can win out (which I’m confident they will) that this team has the ability and experience to beat Denver in Denver and Houston in Houston. And if that happens and the Steelers beat the Falcons in New Orleans, I’m sure I’ll be receiving text messages and tweets about how dumb I am. But even if that happens, I promise I won’t be eating a poop sandwich. I expect the Steelers to beat teams that aren’t great. But if they are going to beat great teams or win big games, it’s going to have to take a double-reverse touchdown pass (see SB XL), a 100 yard interception return at the end of the half (see SB XLIII), a matchup with an inexperienced/underdeveloped/bad QB/backup (see AFC Championship ’09, AFC Championship ’11, AFC Divisional Round ’11, AFC Wild Card Round ’12, AFC Wild Card Round ’06, etc.), their defense to be immovable (always), or Ben Roethlisberger to play a flawless game (AFC Championship ’06, never again).
- When it is all said and done, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, and Colin Kaepernick will all boast solid NFL careers. I group these three because their skill sets and style are very similar. (As is my man Jake Locker, but his inaccuracy is starting to concern me L.) Of these three, Kaepernik will have the best career. There is just something about him that says winner. And watching him throw a ball is beautiful. Dare I say, watching him drop a ball between a deep zone and shallow zone on a corner route has some resemblance to a Peyton Manning teardrop. I’m also confident in Kaepernick because of his coach.
- With that said, Alex Smith, good luck. Smith’s days in San Francisco seem to be over. But I’m saying Smith is a starter on opening day of 2013 either in New York, Arizona, Oakland, Buffalo or Cleveland. Wherever he ends up, he better pray that Pat Shurmur isn’t his coach.
- The Jaguars, Raiders, and Chargers are all in a bad way. I’m talking about bottom-feeders for years to come unless something drastic happens. These three teams, above all others, have practically nothing to build on. They are painful to watch. The worst part – their stadiums are barely half full on game day.
I say this all because two of these three teams need to move. I think the Raiders are fine in Oakland; they just need the culture of the franchise to change (badly!). But the Jags and Chargers are dead in the water. Nobody cares about them, in-house or around the country. If I’m the NFL, I beg one of these teams to move to Los Angeles and the other to either Las Vegas or Oklahoma City. With LA’s population, glitz and glamour, and brand, it would be a certain success. As for the other city, Las Vegas would be a brand (and experiment) that would be fun to follow and would certainly sell out games, while I’m saying OKC entirely based off of the Thunder’s fane base. OKC is like a college town when the Thunder play. That city really has nothing else. Imagine Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook standing on the sideline of the Oklahoma City Jaguars led by Geno Smith. Oops.
- In my opinion, the MVP discussion is dead in the water. I don’t care if the Vikings lose their last two games, I can’t remember a player meaning more to a team that is fighting for a playoff spot like Adrian Peterson. Plus, his comeback story makes it that much more special.
I won’t be surprised if Peyton Manning or Tom Brady win it, but I will feel let down if one of them do. I’ll liken it to when Brian Kelley said that if Manti Te’o doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy they might as well make it an award for offensive players (although I disagree with Te’o deserving it). If Adrian Peterson doesn’t win the MVP, they might as well make it a quarterback award.
The Vikings are lost without Peterson, especially with Percy Harvin out for the season. Plus, Peterson’s offensive line is below average, his quarterback doesn’t demand any respect form opposing defenses, and everybody knows that he and his surgically-repaired ACL are getting the ball 25-30 times a game! Yet, he still manages to go for 160 yards and 2 TDs week in and week out.
Nobody is more valuable this season than Peterson. Not Brady. Not Manning. Not Rodgers. Minnesota is a three win team if Peterson can’t play this year. Instead, they are a win or two away from playing in January.
- 2,200 words later, this is my last point. I promise. And I’ll make it quick. Again, I’ve been a Cleveland sports fan my entire life and it hasn’t been fun. It’s frustrating. I am emotionally invested. I hate it, but it’s true. Between 2007 and last summer, everything that a sports could dread happened.
To name a few, the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and traded two Cy Young winners in the next 18 months because they didn’t want to pay them for prospects who fizzled out one by one. The Cleveland Browns turned a 10-6 record in ’07 to overpaying (TWO!!!!!) quarterbacks and bringing in a new coach with an unnecessary chip on his shoulder who traded away every player (but one) with a hint of playmaking ability. And then they brought in another coach who couldn’t go .500 in a Pop Warner league. And the Cavaliers had the best basketball player on the planet walk out on his hometown team because things got tough and the next best player on the planet convinced him to play on his team. (Read that last sentence again. I’m still not over it because that’s exactly how plain and simple it is. The best player on Planet Earth kicked dirt on the only place he’s ever known because it was too tough and he was convinced by HIS RIVAL to play on his team. That never happened before and never will again.)
With all of that said (I feel like I use With all of that said an awful lot), being a Cleveland sports fan should have been/be miserable. No fun. But one man kept things entertaining. Fun. I’m not talking about Kyrie Irving, although I’m confident that he, Dion Waiters, a top five pick in 2013, and that same coward that walked out in July 2010 (when he comes back – I still don’t know how I feel about it), will be in serious contention for a few years. The player that I’m talking about never even really played an actual position.
Joshua Cribbs kept Cleveland believing.
We fans were well aware that a special teamer wasn’t enough to win a Lombardi Trophy, but when Cribbs’ contract was up in 2010, we crossed our fingers that the HH regime would dig into the pockets and “Pay the Man.” They did and we got to watch Josh Cribbs for three more years. Kickoff returns, special teams tackles, occasional (not enough) wildcat snaps. Very few wins. But that’s OK, because it was Josh Cribbs.
I mention this and I type way too much because Sunday was the Browns final home game of the 2012 season. After a game in Denver this Sunday and one in Pittsburgh the following, Joshua Cribbs contract will be up – as will the NFL’s best kicker and only Brown still on the roster from the ’99 expansion team, Phil Dawson.
It’s not a longshot to say that Cribbs and Dawson are the Browns best two players (Joe Thomas and Joe Haden may beg to differ, but that’s not important right now) and have been the best two players since ‘99. When reading that, you should understand why Cleveland has struggled so much – their best two players are a kicker and special teamer.
It kills me to think that Sunday was these to Cleveland Brown greats’ last game as a Brown. But it’s inevitable. I highly doubt that the next Browns ownership and management teams resign these two based on their age and how high the offer may have to be.
Not only is it hard to picture a Browns team without Cribbs and Dawson because of their longevity and success, but because the more or less embody the Cleveland mentality. Neither player was drafted. Neither expected to do too much. Both making their name by doing the little things first and then through hard work becoming leaders of a football team and an entire city.
The other day, I was with my buddy Tommy whose father was a diehard Browns fan and as a result, his son inherited that same passion. I see Tommy every once in a while but every time we are together, Cleveland sports talk is a constant.
We were talking about how the team has a lot of promise and then went on to which players we are excited to watch as their career goes on. Greg Little. Joe Haden. Trent Richardson. Weeden.
Then silence broke for about two seconds, but we both knew what we were thinking. Josh Cribbs is my favorite football player ever. Phil Dawson (or at Tommy calls him MVPhil) is his favorite. All we said, “I’m going to miss those two.”
The chances of Phil or Josh reading this post are right around 0%, partially because of the low-profile of Calf and partially because this post is 3,000 words. But I’m going to right this last paragraph as if they were reading.
Gentlemen – Thank you for everything. You will be missed like crazy, but you know that your legacies will continue. Mark my words, I’ll by tickets right in the Dawg Pound for the game that you both come back to see your numbers hang in the Ring of Honor. But until then, best of luck and go get that ring. You deserve it.